Life Coach and Therapist Tiffany Louise on managing stress to overcome situations.
There’s no question a survival situation can crank up your stress level. But so what? What does stress do to a person? Is it healthy? Is it dangerous? We reached out to Uncharted Ambassador Tiffany Louise to ask these questions. Tiffany is renown life coach, therapist and speaker and we’ve always found her perspective on this to be logical, grounded and beyond helpful. So read on, and let Tiffany teach you how to mentally thrive when the going gets tough.
Uncharted Supply Co.: Thanks for your time, Tiffany! So let’s start at the top… I think everyone has an opinion of what ‘stress’ is to them, but what are the biggest signs of stress in a person?
Tiffany Louise: Effects of chronic or significant stress can show up differently depending on the individual. For some it could look like irritability, inability to focus, anxiety, or obsessive thoughts. For others, it may show up physically in symptoms like frequently getting colds or other illnesses, headaches, or gastrointestinal issues. And, it can also show up in how we behave. To cope with stress many people turn to abusing drugs or alcohol, excessive shopping, or overeating to name a few. Stress manifests emotional, physically, and behavioral, and really can be quite insidious in how it impacts our lives.
What are some of the biggest effects of stress that people often fail to recognize?
TL: Stress has become a major issue for our country. One in five Americans report regularly experiencing symptoms of extreme stress: heart palpitations, anxiety, or depression. 44% of Americans report feeling more stressed than they did five years ago. Research concludes that stress is the basic cause of 60% of all human illness and disease, and three out of four doctor visits are for stress related ailments. It is also estimated that stress related ailments and illnesses cost Americans $300 billion every year in medical bills and lost productivity.
Wow. So stress obviously effects your physical well-being. Does stress effect decision making?
TL: Absolutely. I always tell my clients, do not make major decisions from a place of fear or desperation. When we are operating under severe stress our bodies are likely to be elevated in a fight or flight mode, cortisol is likely to be pumping, and our “wise mind” is often not at the forefront. Waiting until you’ve had a moment to process this decision from all angles, and operating from a place of being grounded emotionally and physically, always helps support us in tapping into our higher wisdom and intuition when making decisions.
We talk a lot about preparing. Just like practicing building a fire before you actually need one, how can people practice overcoming stress or stressful situations? Or maybe a better way to ask is ‘is there a way to prepare for a stressful situation?”
TL: Our minds cannot discern between an actual stressor in the environment, and simply thinking a situation is stressful. Our body treats an attacking lion the same way we may think “If I mess this up, I will lose my job.” Our bodies have similar chemical reactions to both.
This means that all day long while we are thinking anxiety producing thoughts, our bodies are experiencing the effects of surging stress hormones. Many of us live our lives in constant fight or flight mode, and this takes a toll on our physical and emotional wellbeing.
The reality is while we have little control over much of what happens in life, we do have power over our THOUGHTS and ACTIONS. Much of my work as a therapist and professional coach is about helping people break thought patterns that are creating pain in their lives. And when they get this, when they learn to reprogram their systems, EVERYTHING changes.
So, to begin to practice overcoming stress responses, the first place to look is at the specific language we use when we talk to ourselves and others. Our Thoughts create our Feelings which then create our Actions. If the thought doesn’t feel good, try to untwist it, and replace it with a more empowering thought. Does your thinking feed your stress or feed your peace?
In a suddenly stressful situation, what are a few techniques people should use to manage it?
TL: If someone is experiencing sudden onset of stress due to a real-life danger or crisis, here are 3 things they can do to help them manage their stress response.
Reach for something physical and tangible to center yourself in the environment and the moment. This could be simply touching a wall, an object, or sitting in a chair. (Grounding is a technique we used for survivors of trauma who are experiencing PTSD.) Grounding brings us into our bodies and out of our heads.
Take a deep breath and focus on elongating the exhale. Slowing our breath helps us slow our heart rate, which calms our whole system. This can support us in mediating our fight or flight response.
Focus on what needs to be done next. Often in a crisis or challenging situation, our minds can spin out, heightening our stress experience. By taking control of our thoughts, and focusing on only the next step in front of us, we can take action to respond to the situation as best we can in the moment, rather than being paralyzed by our thoughts.
Does attitude truly effect a person’s physical well-being? How?
TL: I really believe our attitude is everything when it comes to our physical health. Our bodies are eavesdropping on every thought our minds are thinking. We are so interconnected as human beings - mind, body, and spirit. And, our attitude determines our behavior which determines whether we take actions that support or diminish our physical health.
What are your favorite techniques for finding positivity when everything seems to be going wrong?
TL: Gratitude. All day, every day. The research on gratitude is remarkable. Grateful people are happier, healthier, and more successful. And gratitude is a muscle we can build. No matter what is happening in your life, no matter the difficulty, if you are breathing, there is something to be grateful for. When we create practices that nurture an attitude of gratitude our lives can transform. This can be as simple as writing down 3 things you are grateful for each night before bed. It sounds oversimplified, and like “the therapist thing to recommend,” but there is real science supporting this practice. It is impossible to feel both miserable and grateful at the same time.